Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Latin root TEND-, part 1: Introduction

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "From extend to pretend: The Latin root -TEND-", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 1

Introduction: The Proto-Indo-European root *ten-

The Spanish and English languages have over a hundred common words each, most of which are cognates of each other, that can be traced back to the Latin root tĕnd‑. To those lists, a few more technical and rare words can be added. In English, many of these words were borrowed directly from written Latin, though some came through French, where they were often also borrowings from Latin and not patrimonial words that came into that language through direct word-of-mouth descent. Many of the Spanish words are also loanwords from written Latin, though many are descendants of Latin words by the patrimonial route.

The root tĕnd‑ was a verbal one and it is found most basically in the third-conjugation verb tĕndĕre, whose main meanings or senses were ‘to stretch, make tense’ and ‘stretch out, spread out, extend’. The verb also had some derived secondary senses, such as ‘to aim, strive, go’, and even ‘to pitch (a tent)’. 

Figure 227: Lion stretching[i]

As was usually the case with third conjugation Latin verbs, this verb’s principal parts were somewhat irregular:
  • Present 1sg: tĕndo, also attested as tenno in early Latin
  • Present infinitive: tĕndĕre
  • Perfect 1sg: tĕtendī, a reduplicated verb form[1]
  • Supine: tēntum which in later Latin changed to tēnsum; the original, regular formation was presumably tend-t-um, formed with the suffix ‑t
The English and Spanish words that are derived from this word come from either the present root tĕnd‑ (from tĕndĕre) or else from one of the two passive participle/supine stems: tent (from tentum) or tens (from tensum). Together, the three variants of this roottend‑, tent‑, and tenshave resulted in the large number of words in English and Spanish that we will explore in this chapter. This includes cognates that are ‘good friends’ (very similar in look and meaning), such as Eng. tendency ~ Sp. tendencia, and cognates that are not such ‘good friends’, such as Eng. intend ~ Sp. entender ‘to understand’.

The Latin root tĕnd has been traced back to the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *ten‑, whose meaning was something like ‘to span, stretch, extend, pull’. Actually, the source of the Latin root tĕnd would seem to be an extended form of this PIE root, namely *ten‑do (AHD). In Latin, the Proto-Indo-European root *ten with a stative suffix or extension, namely *ten‑ē‑, produced the verb tĕnēre ‘to hold, keep, maintain’, source of Sp. tener ‘to have’ and of many other Spanish words, as well as many English words that came directly from Latin or indirectly through French. As for the origin of the extension of the Proto-Indo-European root *ten‑do‑, we do not really know for sure where that piece came from or what it meant.

Old English had a patrimonial (Germanic) descendant of this Proto-Indo-European root *ten‑, namely þennan or þenian, meaning ‘to stretch, extend’. German still has a cognate of this word, namely dehnen ‘to stretch’. This Old English word was cognate with Lat. tĕndĕre (same meaning) since it contained the same root, although because of the differences in derivation we do not say they have the same complete source and are fully cognate, that is, cognates. Also cognate with both of those words was Ancient Greek τείνειν (teínein), which also meant ‘to stretch, extend, spread’, as well as ‘to exert, push to the limit, strain’. A cognate of these words in Sanskrit, another ancient Indo-European language, is तनोति (tanóti) ‘to spread, stretch’.

From the basic verb tĕndĕre several other verbs were derived in Latin by prefixation whose meanings were sometimes literal and sometimes figuratively derived from the original literal meaning of the verb tĕndĕre. We can see what those derived verbs were with their meanings in Table 186 below. As we can see, some of them have descendants in English and Spanish.


‘to stretch, make tense’ and ‘spread out, extend’
‘to stretch towards’, ‘pay attention (to)’
‘to stretch, draw tight’, ‘to assert, affirm’, 
‘to strive for, struggle’, etc.’
‘to unstretch, loosen, relax’
‘to stretch out, extend; to swell, distend’
‘to stretch out; to prolong, continue; to enlarge’
‘to stretch out, reach forth; 
 to give attention to’
‘stretch or spread before or over; etc.’

‘to expose to view, exhibit, show’
‘to persevere, persist’
‘to indicate, point out; predict, foretell’
‘to spread before, hold out, place in front of’
‘to extend; to prolong, lengthen’
‘to unbend, slacken, relax’
‘to stretch underneath; to extend beneath’
Table 186: Latin verbs derived from tĕndĕre by prefixation

Altogether, many English words can trace their lineage to the same Proto-Indo-European root *ten‑. That root, with different extensions, made it to the different Indo-European languages and managed to survive long enough to make their way to English. In Table 187 below you can see the best reconstruction that we have been able to make of such words taken from The American Heritage Dictionary Indo-European Roots Appendix by Calvert Watkins. In this chapter, we are going to look primarily at words in section I.1 of this chart, those that from Latin tĕndĕre, though we may mention a few other related ones along the way. One curious thing that we can glean from this chart is that only one native (not borrowed) English word can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root *ten‑, namely the word thin (see II.1).

To stretch.
Derivatives include tendon, pretend, hypotenuse, tenement, tenor, entertain, lieutenant, and tone.
I. Derivatives with the basic meaning.
1.  Suffixed form *ten-do‑.
a. tend1, tender2, tendu2, tense1, tent1; attend, contend, detent, distend, extend, intend, ostensible, pretend, subtend, from Latin tendere, to stretch, extend;
b. portend, from Latin portendere, “to stretch out before” (por‑, variant of pro‑, before; see per), a technical term in augury, “to indicate, presage, foretell.”.
2.  Suffixed form *ten-yo‑. tenesmus; anatase, bronchiectasis, catatonia, entasis, epitasis, hypotenuse, neoteny, paratenic host, peritoneum, protasis, syntonic, telangiectasia, from Greek teinein, to stretch, with o-grade form ton‑ and zero-grade noun tasis (< *tn̥-ti‑), a stretching, tension, intensity.
3.  Reduplicated zero-grade form *te-tn̥-o‑. tetanus, from Greek tetanos, stiff, rigid.
4.  Suffixed full-grade form *ten-tro‑.
a.  tantra, from Sanskrit tantram, loom;
b. sitar, from Persian tār, string.
5.  Basic form (with stative suffix) *ten-ē‑. tenable, tenacious, tenaculum, tenant, tenement, tenet, tenon, tenor, tenure, tenuto; abstain, contain, continue, detain, entertain, lieutenant, maintain, obtain, pertain, pertinacious, rein, retain, retinaculum, retinue, sustain, from Latin tenēre, to hold, keep, maintain (< “to cause to endure or continue, hold on to”).
6.  Extended form *ten-s‑. Suffixed zero-grade form *tn̥s-elo‑. tussah, from Sanskrit tasaram, shuttle.
II.   Derivatives meaning “stretched,” hence “thin.”
1.  Suffixed zero-grade form *tn̥-u‑. thin, from Old English thynne, thin, from Germanic *thunniz, from *thunw‑.
2.  Suffixed full-grade form *ten-u‑. tenuous; attenuate, extenuate, from Latin tenuis, thin, rare, fine.
3.  Suffixed full-grade form *ten-ero‑. tender1, tendril; intenerate, from Latin tener, tender, delicate.
III.  Derivatives meaning “something stretched or capable of being stretched, a string.”
1.  Suffixed form *ten-ōn‑. tendon, teno-, from Greek tenōn, tendon.
2.  Suffixed o-grade form *ton-o‑. tone; baritone, tonoplast, from Greek tonos, string, hence sound, pitch.
3.  Suffixed zero-grade form *tn̥-yā‑. taenia; polytene, from Greek tainiā, band, ribbon.
[Pokorny 1. ten‑ 1065.]
Table 187: The Proto-Indo-European root *ten- in native and borrowed English words[ii]


[1] Some Latin verbs had reduplicated perfect stems, such as cucurrī, perfect of currĕre ‘to run, hurry’. Some verbs used to have reduplicated perfect stems in Old Latin, which were lost by the time of Classical Latin. Reduplication goes back all the way to Proto-Indoeuropean, and it is found in old Indo-European languages such as Latin, Ancient Greek, and Gothic, mainly for stative aspect and imperfective aspect verb forms.

[i]  Source:,_2012).jpg Adult male lion of the Okondeka pride stretching in Etosha National Park (2019.02.03)
[ii] Source: (2019.02.02)

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